Read Orpheus and the Pearl & Nevermore Online

Authors: Kim Paffenroth

Tags: #Horror, #Short Stories, #Thriller, #+IPAD, #+UNCHECKED, #+AA

Orpheus and the Pearl & Nevermore

 

Orpheus and the Pearl
Kim Paffenroth

 

Nevermore, or The Feast of Flesh
David Dunwoody

 

Orpheus and the Pearl © 2010 Kim Paffenroth

Originally published by Magus Press 2008

Nevermore, or Feast of Flesh © 2010 David
Dunwoody

Cover & Interior Design by Jodi Lee © 2010
Belfire Press

Edited by Jodi Lee

ISBN: 978-1-926912-05-9

Multi-Format Ebook/Digital
Download

Smashwords Edition

 

A catalogue record for this title is available from
the

National Library of Canada.

 

This novel is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to
place, person or event is strictly coincidental.

 

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* * *

 

Contents

 

 

Acknowledgments

from
Kim Paffenroth

 

Orpheus and the
Pearl

 

Acknowledgments

from
David Dunwoody

 

Nevermore

or
The Feast of Flesh

 

About the
Authors

 

* * *

 

Orpheus and the
Pearl

 

Acknowledgments

Kim Paffenroth

 

Extensive, detailed comments on and
critiques of this story were generously offered by Dr. Marylu Hill.
She did so as I progressed in the writing, so I could work on many
of the details of the time period. Dr. Dan Morehead, a practicing
psychiatrist, offered comments on the clinical aspects of
treatment. The story is much more accurate and believable as a
result of their work, for which I can’t be thankful enough. Dr.
Robert Kennedy looked over the final product and offered his
insights and encouragement, as he has on many of my previous works.
Louise Bohmer gave the manuscript a thorough copy edit, as well as
promoting it constantly and enthusiastically since then, for which
she has all my appreciation and thanks.

 

For those who are
interested in the background of this story and how it relates to my
other job as a professor of religious studies, I think you will
notice that there is much less overtly Christian influence in this
story than in my other works. As I have looked back on it, I have
been surprised that it is in fact my most overtly Platonist piece
of writing, though I think elements of the climax go beyond that
worldview, and may even overturn and undermine it. (I still await
the trenchant final analysis of Dr. Philip Cary on this issue.)
But, now I’m talking like a professor or a pedant: real
beauty overcomes such distinctions and
such
rationalizations, and I hope you find
something beautiful in these pages.

 

Kim Paffenroth

Cornwall on Hudson,
NY

April 2009

 

* * *

 

Orpheus and the Pearl

 

 

C
atherine stepped off the train onto
the platform of the Worcester station after an uneventful ride from
Boston. She had been instructed that someone would meet her there,
and immediately a large, severe-looking man approached her. He was
a towering bulk dressed in a plain black suit that could not have
been comfortable on such a warm, spring day. Catherine noticed from
under the brim of her hat that his face appeared to have but one
impassive expression, for it registered neither interest nor
surprise at seeing her, neither friendliness nor hostility as he
strode up to her. Catherine tried to estimate his age relative to
her own thirty-four years, but his rugged, immobile features were
of such a kind that he could have been the same age as she or much
older.


Dr. MacGuire,” he said
slowly and distinctly in a voice that was as free of intent or
emotion as his face. There was not even the slight rise at the end
that would indicate the usual interrogative tone in such a
greeting; it was as though he were rather telling her name, or
saying it for no reason at all.


Mr. Romwald?” She had
been given the name and description of the man who would be picking
her up at the station just the day before.

Romwald almost imperceptibly nodded and
deftly picked up her two large bags. She followed him to the
doctor’s automobile, a common sort of conveyance in Boston for some
time, but only appearing in significant numbers this far out in the
country after the Great War.

On the bumpy ride to the doctor’s large estate,
Catherine again reflected back on the odd events that had brought
her here, and wondered what further surprises were in store. Two
days before, out of nowhere, a young assistant had called her away
from some rather pointless research numbers, to speak with her
research director. The senior professor explained that he had just
spoken on the telephone with the very famous Dr. Wallston. All her
director could say was that she was to go to the doctor’s estate
outside Worcester, but offered no further details of what she was
to do there or how long she would stay. While it certainly
gladdened her immensely to get away from the deadly dull research
that was forced on her by senior faculty who lacked imagination,
creativity, or even competency, the whole thing smacked of
melodrama and intrigue.

Catherine forcefully expelled her breath to
blow some stray red locks from in front of her nose, and sourly
reflected that both melodrama and intrigue almost inevitably meant
that yet another of the old lechers, with whom she was forced to
work, was going to try clumsily and disgustingly to get under all
those folds of cloth around her middle and see if the carpet
matched the curtains. That was how one of them had so crudely put
it to her during a pawing session from which she had barely managed
to extricate herself, an escape that probably had doomed her to
many more years of research drudgery rather than her own
appointment and work.

But, she had to admit, all her cynicism and
bitter disappointments notwithstanding, Dr. Wallston was not the
typical faculty, even if he had some reputation as a Lothario. Not
only did he lack nothing in competence, he was one of the most
brilliant men of his age. His work on the nervous systems of both
primates and humans was nothing short of revolutionary, and there
had been steady talk of a Nobel throughout the second decade of the
new century. But last year he had suddenly left public life to
retreat to his estate and care for his ailing wife, who had
subsequently died. There were then constant rumors that he would
soon return to his brilliant work, but so far, he had remained in
seclusion in this western redoubt, whose gates the car was now
passing through, bouncing along between rows of the most enormous
sycamores Catherine had ever seen. Past these, the road wound
through rolling fields, around the side of a large hill, and then
approached the main house, which sat atop a lower hill, overlooking
a lake. Except for the automobile, they could have been in the
American or European countryside in the previous century, or even
the one before. Raised in the city, Catherine was enthralled by the
bucolic setting, and silently cursed herself for all the beautiful
spring days she had spent sterilely sequestered in laboratories and
libraries.

Romwald ushered her out of the automobile
and into the large and elegant home. He didn’t offer her anything
in the way of rest or refreshment, instead moving directly to the
door of the doctor’s study, while she stood in the foyer and
quickly straightened herself somewhat. He opened the study door,
and Catherine stepped into the room as confidently and
professionally as she could. The door closed behind her
noiselessly.

Dr. Wallston had already stood and was now
coming around his desk to greet her. He was still a relatively
young man, tall and impressive, with a full mane of black, wavy
hair, grey only around the temples. The rumors of his many trysts
seemed much more believable now in person.


Dr. MacGuire, thank you so much
for coming, and on such short notice,” he said as he shook her
hand.


Dr. Wallston, I was
honored to receive your invitation, of course.” She was glad and
put somewhat more at ease by his use of her title. She could expect
it of a servant like Romwald, naturally, but physicians much
further down the pecking order than Dr. Wallston had seen fit to
call her “Miss” MacGuire, or worse, by her first name. She could
feel her jaw clench, even now, when she thought of how some had
even resorted to “Cathy” or “Kitty,” usually with a leer, as though
she were some pretty, little Irish whore in Scollay Square, instead
of the educated expert she had sacrificed so much of her life to
become.


Please, sit.” He returned
to his chair behind his desk, folded his hands and sighed. “Dr.
MacGuire, I need your help in a most grave matter, a matter that
has confounded me now for several months. You come highly
recommended, and I believe that in this matter especially, your
unique perspective as a woman may also be of crucial importance to
its successful resolution.”


Dr. Wallston, I’m
flattered at your confidence, and grateful that my director saw fit
to recommend me for such a difficult assignment.” The last part was
a shameless lie. Her director was a total incompetent who seldom
hid his disdain for her, but enjoyed gawking at her enough to keep
her around. Even better, he had so far restrained any further
attentions to only occasionally touching her bosom or buttocks—even
having what he must’ve considered the ‘decency’ to make these
tactile intrusions seem accidental—so Catherine tolerated her
servitude with him. Catherine didn’t let even the tiniest muscle on
her face betray her untruth to Dr. Wallston, nor give away the
sudden, wrenching twist in her stomach at the mention of how her
gender might be important.

She knew all too well how important it was
to men that she was physically different than they, even if she
were their intellectual equal or superior in every way. “But I
really can’t imagine what medical problem I could assist with, if
it escapes your knowledge and skill.” This statement, on the other
hand, was completely true; sometimes toadying was also sincere, and
this made it a hundred times less demeaning.

He looked at her steadily,
his head slightly tilted down. Unlike most men his age, he did not
wear eyeglasses, and Catherine had to catch herself and blink, to
break her reverie on how beautiful were his hazel eyes – so full,
not just of intellect, but of emotion. And right now, that emotion
was one of an oppressive sadness and resignation. “No, you
flatter
me
, Dr.
MacGuire. It is true that I have much knowledge of many physical
afflictions and how to cure or treat them, more knowledge than most
any man of our age, more knowledge than any man has ever before
had. Perhaps, I fear, more knowledge than any man should have.” He
sighed again. “What a strange thought. Do you think that possible…
to have too much knowledge of how to cure our
afflictions?”

Catherine sat, unblinking, for a moment. The
question was as odd and unexpected as this whole errand. “We are
doctors. We have taken an oath to do good and never harm to our
patients.”


Quite so. My point
exactly. What if there are afflictions that are for our own
good?”

Catherine craned her neck forward. She
sincerely hoped the conversation did not get any odder. Though many
would call her choice of profession the height of impracticality,
she was, at her core, an imminently commonsensical and anchored
person, not given to such metaphysical flights as the doctor now
seemed to be proposing. “I don’t think that is for us to judge,
doctor. If most people in our society deem something a mental or
physical evil, then we must do everything to alleviate it.”

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